Both anxiety and stress can induce inflammation within the body in general, resulting in increased feelings of discomfort.
What comes first: the pain or the anxiety?
Dr. Baum points out that back pain is more common amongst 30- to 50-year-olds, while anxiety often presents itself earlier in life for many people. However, Dr. Alan Hilibrand, MD, the co-director of Spine Surgery and Director of the Spine Fellowship at Rothman Orthopaedic Institute in New Jersey counters with counters presenting two possibilities: someone with minor back strain may feel amplified pain due to the inflammatory elements in their body. In contrast, a patient with pre-existing chronic pain could experience flare-ups as a “stress-response” of their body.
What you can do
There is one thing both doctors do agree on, it’s that managing your anxiety can help to reduce chronic pain.
According to Dr. Baum, treatments for anxiety (such as meditation, talk therapy, and medications that address neurotransmitter imbalance in the brain) have been proven to decrease objective ratings of back pain while enabling patients to become more active — which further aids discomfort.
Dr. Hilibrand concurs that exercise, recreational time with family and friends, and addressing the core source of the anxiety can reduce chronic pain.